Bosnia and Herzegovina – Počitelj, Medjugorje, Mostar

Stari Most Mostar Bosnia – Travel Is Beautiful

The day tour to Bosnia was interesting, and since my time in Dubrovnik is over soon, I decided to go rain or shine. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible putting a damper on photos and exploring. Our guide shared history and entertained us with folktales and side stories about his life in Bosnia and Croatia.

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

I’m still confused about Balkan history and rivalry between Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. I think others find it confusing too. The expression “forgive but never forget” is used often in Croatia. Like Germany, the longer I stay in Croatia, the clearer it becomes there’s more to learn about the country…

Franjo Tudjman Bridge Dubrovnik – Croatia Week

There were two others in the group, a couple who had sailed to Dubrovnik. Their sailboat was undergoing maintenance. Sadly, they were the worst tour companions imaginable. Details are inappropriate for a blog but included mean and nasty fights followed by making up – insane, disturbing behavior. The uncomfortable scenes could have been from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf :o( and they didn’t seem concerned that two other people were captive to their bickering – what a pair! Luckily, we split several times for exploring.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar – karim74.wordpress.com

Mostar Old City – Vera Kailova

Twelve Croatia, Bosnia Border Crossings

On the way from Dubrovnik to Mostar and back we crossed a total of 12 borders. Thankfully the crossings were quick and painless and didn’t require stamping 12 separate passport pages!

Počitelj Old Town Wall – Hit Booker

The borders are a “legacy of the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart two decades ago”. You pass a six-mile stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina near the resort town of Neum. Then the road circles back to Croatia through the Neretva Valley before you enter Bosnia again. In the past, the road was all in one country without borders.

Franciscan Monastery Mostar

Neum Agreement Croatia and Bosnia

Croatia and Bosnia signed the “Neum Agreement” in 1998 guaranteeing free passage from Croatia’s northern Port of Ploče through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Neum is close to Dubrovnik International Airport. Non-EU/EFTA citizens passing through Neum who plan to stay in Bosnia a while need Croatian exit and Bosnian entry stamps in their passports. Not obtaining them is “illegal and causes issues when exiting”.

Počitelj Bosnia and Herzegovina – commons.wikimedia.org

Dubrovnik’s Daksa Island and Arboretum Trsteno

We departed via Dubrovnik Bridge heading north along the coast passing Daksa Island. The island was the “site of a brutal massacre in 1944 by Yugoslav partisans“. The Yugoslavs arrested hundreds of Dubrovnik citizens from the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH). They accused some of being Nazi sympathizers and executed them without a trial. Today Daksa Island is abandoned. Locals claim the “ghosts of those executed” haunt the island. With minimal research, it seems the NDH era is its own chapter in Croatian history.

Metković – Stjepan Jozepovic

We passed Arboretum Trsteno in the small Croatian village of the same name. The beautiful gardens have an interesting story. Dubrovnik’s Gozze family started them in the 15th century by “asking the city’s sailing community to bring back seeds and plants from their travels around the globe”. The gardens include an aqueduct and 18th century fountain with a statue of Neptune and two nymphs. The arboretum is home to some of the oldest trees in Croatia.

Neptune Fountain Trsteno Gardens – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian Villages – Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston

Wild boars inhabit the low, bushy terrain around the Croatian villages of Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston. Boar hunting is popular and locals consider the meat a delicacy. Slano and Ston are famous for their salt pans and valuable salt sea factories along the Duboka River. The Duboka is a tributary of Bosnia’s Vrbanja River running near Međugorje Mountain and Bojići Village.

Eurasian Wild Boar – IUCN Red List

Yugoslavia

Bosnia – Neum and Počitelj

As we turned northeast and headed inland through Bosnia, Neum was our first stop. We sat inside enjoying coffee and escaping another torrential downpour. On the way to Počitelj, we passed more villages along the blue-greenish Neretva River.

Adriatic Terrain Neretva Valley

Hutovo Blato Nature Park is in the Neretva Valley near Capljina. Capljina has interesting archaeology and “untouched wilderness”. It’s a “unique Mediterranean swamp and wintering place for birds in Europe”.

Hutovo Blato Nature Park Bosnia – Parks Dinarides

Our Lady of Peace Medjugorje

Neum

Neum is the only seaside resort in Bosnia but the population is primarily Croatian. Motor traffic between the northern Croatian town of Ploče and southern Dubrovnik passes through the “Neum Corridor”. At the border, there are two lines – “one for travelers into Bosnia and another for those in transit to other parts of Croatia. At this border sometimes they check passports, sometimes not. Ours weren’t checked.

Medujugorje Pilgrimage – Anna Nuzzo

Počitelj

Built on a hillside near the banks of the Neretva River, Počitelj (stone town) has the longest operating international art colony in southeast Europe. The remains of Počitelj’s medieval wall surround 15th century Turkish houses, mosques, and a tower and citadel. Architecture reflects a strong Ottoman influence.

Mostar Bridge

Počitelj “fell into neglect in 1878” when Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken over by Austro-Hungarian rule. In 1992 during the Bosnian War Počitelj was bombed and most of its population displaced. In 1996, World Monuments Watch added Počitelj to a list of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. In 2000, the government started reconstruction encouraging Počitelj refugees to return home.

Tito’s Palace Neretva River – cherylhoward.com

Croatian Metković and Bosnian Medjugorje

Continuing through Metković and Opuzen on the way to Medjugorje, we stopped to visit the celebrated Catholic church. It’s a major spiritual site and one of the “most famous pilgrimage destinations in the Catholic world”. Since the Our Lady of Peace Apparition occurred in 1981 it’s visited by pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. I sat for a while inside the church with two other people who were praying.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Relentless rain showed no sign of letting up and made exploring uncomfortable. It’s off-season, so except for a few tourist shops selling religious statues, most businesses were closed.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

_____________

“In Medjugorje six trustworthy witnesses testified under oath that since the 24th of June 1981, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gospa has appeared to them every day up to the present.”

_____________

Mostar Vista

Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina

We continued to Mostar, the focal point of the tour, and spent three hours walking around the city. A local guide led us through Old Town in the rain. Afterwards I found a restaurant – Hindin Han – on the riverside with views of the Neretva River and enjoyed a Bosnian lunch with interesting locals.The restaurant building is a refurbished historical home, with wooden balconies and white-wash walls.

Stari Most Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Mostar looks depressed and parts of the city are full of trash and rubble. During summer tourists bring needed income. Off season it almost seemed deserted.

Blagaj Tekke Blagaj Buna River – turizam.mostar

_____________

Mostar holds a Street Art Festival in spring, when artists from all over the world come to create new murals and works of art.

_____________

Mostar Old-Town – intheknowdventures.jpg

Through the centuries Mostar became the meeting point of various cultures and religions. The old city is divided by east and west. The east is mostly Muslim and the west Catholic. I detected some tension in the air even between our tour leader and the local Mostar guide who was clearly Muslim.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Minarets in mosques on the east side sang out the Islamic Call to Prayer – something I hadn’t heard since a trip to Istanbul in 2017. Church bells tolled in Catholic monasteries and cathedrals on the west side. Our Muslim guide told us that many Catholics converted to Islam after the Bosnian War.

Stari Most Mostar

Stari Most and Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Mostar’s symbol is its beautiful Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman-style bridge that connects east and west. The bridge has rich history and it’s been bombed and damaged many times. Stari Most stood for 427 years until it was destroyed completely in 1993 during the Bosnian War and then rebuilt in 2004.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

_____________

Bosnia and Herzegovina has three Presidents – Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

_____________

House Mostar

Locals dive off the Old Bridge plunging 20 metres (65 ft.) into the river. The “practice of Bridge diving started in 1664” and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In 1968, the city held a formal diving competition, which continues today.

Restoran Hindin Han Mostar – Moj Restoran

Old Bridge is breathtaking and the color of the Neretva River is such a vivid bluish-green it’s almost surreal. Slowly the city is becoming a popular destination with its varied architecture, art, forests, mountains, holy sites, waterfalls, bridges, and street art. I would love to do some hiking and explore the area further during better weather.

Mostar Street Art – cherylhoward.com

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is another Mostar icon. You can climb the stairs following a narrow tower to the minaret where panoramic views are amazing!

Sniper Tower Mostar – Picgra

Like Istanbul, Mostar has small cafés serving Turkish tea and coffee. I had a piece of baklava – the best I’ve ever tasted!

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

Abandoned Buildings and Street Art

Mostar is known for its interesting street art and abandoned buildings, many riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian War. “Today, young artists use the buildings as canvases to protest oppression and express themselves creatively.” It reminded me of artists in Maputo Mozambique who make creative art using civil war remnants.

Neum Seaside Resort Herzegovina-Neretva Canton

Sniper Tower

Some of the abandoned buildings include a sniper tower, Neretva Hotel, and an old airport hangar. At one time the sniper tower was a bank. It’s positioned along the city’s front border. During the Bosnian War it became a “base for snipers who hid in the tower to take aim at targets”.

Interior Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Today, the tower is decorated with street art and homeless people sleep there at night. You can jump over the back wall (near the Nelson Mandela quote) to explore the street art and enjoy a great view of Mostar from the top.

Počitelj Old Town Wall, Citadel, and Tower – Hit Booker

Neretva Hotel

Hotel Neretva was a grand hotel nicknamed “Tito’s Palace” after Yugoslav communist revolutionary Josip Broz Tito. It’s now a ruin. “After years of deadlock,” restoration continues at a cost of 9 million Euros.

Stormy Day Neretva River Mostar

Mostar Secret Aircraft Hangar – The Minimalist Ninja

Abandoned Airport Hangar

I didn’t see Mostar’s former top-secret underground airport hangar. It’s disguised in the mountains near the airport. Tito stationed fighter planes there to hide them from the Soviets. You can tour the hangar on your own or book a “Death of Yugoslavia Tour“. It wouldn’t have been much fun in the heavy rain.

Zrinjevac Park Mostar – Hit Booker

Bruce Lee Statue

A “weird, offbeat” sculpting of Bruce Lee is in Zrinjevac Park. Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic created the statue in 2005. At the time it was in Spanish Square and the artist intended it to be a “fun, lighthearted symbol of peace”. Some locals took a dislike to the statue and vandalized it. Replaced in 2013, it’s still there.

Međugorje St. James Church – commons.wikipedia.org

We didn’t visit Kravice Waterfalls outside Mostar – probably best on a hot summer day. People swim in the lake and under the waterfalls.

Rakija

_____________

“Rakija – the local moonshine – destroys bacteria, relieves stomach and muscle pain, annihilates viruses, and disinfects wounds instantly.”

_______________

Mostar War Ruin – Mostar Travel

Blagaj Tekke – The Dervish Monastery

Blagaj Tekke is another interesting place near Mostar. It’s “one of Bosnia’s most holy and ancient sites.” Built around 1520 it’s known as the Dervish Monastery and was built for Sufi gatherings. It “rests beside the fast-flowing blue-green Buna River, which spills out of a darkened cliff-cave”. Miraculously, the Monastery wasn’t damaged during the Bosnian War.

Mostar Street Art

Rakija – Local Moonshine

Our guide told us about Rakija, a homemade brandy that’s said to be “the secret weapon against all that’s enemy to man”. On the way back to Dubrovnik we stopped at a roadside café where they make and sell Rakija. Conversation was fun and lively. :)

Destruction of Stari Most Bosnian War – subir.pw

Three Presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia has three presidents! Not sure why?

  1. Milorad Dodik Serbia
  2. Šefik Džaferović Bosnia-Herzegovina
  3. Željko Komšić Croatia

400 Year Old Plane Tree (Sycamore) Trsteno Arboretum – Panadea

All in all it turned out to be an amazing, educational day in Bosnia!

Dubrovnik Reflections

Stradun Old Town in Winter – Culture Trip

It’s an understatement that Dubrovnik is a vast change from Berlin! With the 90/180 visa rule, I had to exit EU Schengen countries and there weren’t many options. Croatia was the right choice.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

Dubrovnik in Winter

Some say visiting Dubrovnik in winter is crazy, but I love the time here, even though it can get windy and cold. Locals clearly prefer warm Mediterranean weather and grumble when it gets below 50. Winter temperatures are steady in the 40s – 50s with chilly nights in the 30s. Most days are crisp and clear emphasizing a backdrop of sea and mountains! I met a tourist from Chicago who said Dubrovnik’s winter weather seemed almost like spring. It’s ideal for hiking and winter festivals are fun. 

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – Total Croatia News

Long-Term Travel

Long-term travel is a much different experience than short-term group or family trips. The goal is staying a while and being low-key, forgetting yourself, getting comfortable mingling, and learning to understand a country’s culture, people, and day-to-day life. I no longer try to explain the value of this to those who don’t understand and are even critical. However, as a solo traveler you must be self-reliant and cautious. I’ve made and survived many mistakes. Imperfection and the unknown are part of the adventure.

Stradun Old Town During Winter Festival

Getting Around

Getting around Dubrovnik requires effort but you grow accustomed to climbing and descending a series of steep stone steps. I started a morning yoga routine that seems to keep me limber. I enjoy daily walks, short hikes, and climbing the stairs on the way to and from my apartment – especially at dusk and sunset when the sky and sea are vivid and dramatic. With a car, good luck finding parking near Old Town.

Winter View of Old Town and Lokrum Island from Mt. Srd

Internet is fast and unlike Berlin, you don’t get slammed with excessive advertisements. Almost everything closes on Sunday which reminds me of South Africa years ago.

Dubrovnik’s Islands in Winter – Total Croatia News

People, Cats, Food

I’ve met some lovely locals and learned about Dubrovnik’s history. Most people speak English fairly well. During business hours they move quickly, but after hours it’s a different scene.

Winter Sunset Dubrovnik

People in Dubrovnik are down-to-earth and don’t make life complicated. Some men are flirtatious :o)… It’s fun to be noticed, but even at my age, flirting back isn’t always a good idea for solo women travelers.

Old Town Cat

Winter Adriatic Sea

I don’t know but think locals are slightly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing hordes of tourists. Of course they’re a great source of income, but the summer invasion makes a huge impact. I imagine they must grow weary of the onslaught when Old Town is literally teeming with bodies.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

_____________

Winter is the time when locals “take back Dubrovnik”!

_____________

Mt. Srd January 2019

I’ve noticed many stray cats – nothing like Istanbul. Most of them look healthy and like to be petted, but some are skittish and clearly feral. They’re clever and streetwise knowing when to run, which people to trust, and who in the crowd is likely to feed them at outdoor restaurants.

Statue of St Blaise Old Town Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Only a handful of restaurants are open during the winter – some better than others. Usually you can’t go wrong with seafood. So far, my favorite treat is olives! Green or black they’re absolutely divine – BIG smile. Croatian honey, dates, and oranges are also delicious. Markets around my apartment are small locally owned places with fantastic fresh produce and cheeses.

Mini Market Prima Dubrovnik

Winter Dusk before Sunset Dubrovnik

Politics, History, Money

Understanding politics in any country is a challenge, and I’m learning about Croatia through on-line newspapers and conversations with locals. What little I know about the complicated history of conflict between Dubrovnik and its Serbian neighbors is interesting, as is the Bosnian War from 20 years ago, and the Venetian, Napoleonic, and Ottoman invasions.

Church of St. Blaise and Orlando’s Column Old Town Dubrovnik

Croatia hasn’t adopted the Euro yet, but talks are in process for entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Some services quote rates in both Croatian Kuna and Euro – it’s confusing and there’s a big difference between the two! Taxi drivers give a price that sounds reasonable in Kuna and then when it’s time to pay, they say the price quoted was in Euro – usually an outrageous amount… My experiences with taxis in foreign countries haven’t been positive.

Portion of Steps Leading to Old Town

More Steps

Winter Limitations

It’s disappointing that during winter there are no swimming, kayaking, or boat excursions to Dubrovnik’s fabulous islands – that is unless you’re a polar bear swimmer. I’ve seen several brave souls venture out in the cold Adriatic Sea for brief early morning swims. It’s a daily ritual like with San Francisco’s Dolphin Club members who swim near Alcatraz in the cold Bay.

St. Blaise Holding Croatia in His Hand

In winter many Dubrovnik businesses close and locals take a break for a few months. It’s more difficult finding services like tours of Montenegro and Bosnia, but I’m considering the options. Of course you can rent a car and drive yourself. My last visit to Croatia was over five years ago in the summer, when I passed through Dubrovnik on the way to Split and Zagreb.

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik

Festival of St. Blaise

The Festival of St. Blaise of Sebaste, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It began as far back as 971 AD. This year, Dubrovnik celebrates St. Blaise from January 24 through February 3.  On Candlemas Day they release white doves (called The Blessing of the Throats) in front of the Church of St. Blaise and then raise St Blaise’s flag at Orlando’s Column. The ritual is dramatic and colorful. Activities include “concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances dedicated to the patron saint”.

Feast Day of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Coast

_____________

“Statues representing St. Blaise holding Dubrovnik in his hand are the most common sight alongside Dubrovnik’s City Walls.”

_____________

Old Town Dubrovnik in Winter – Total Croatia News

Croatia & Surrounding Countries – infohost.nmt.edu

Next Stop?

I’m working my way south and considered Malta as the next stop, but it’s part of the Schengen visa block, so it won’t work. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Albania are of interest with Cyprus being the warmest climate. Since my last stop will be Cape Town, traveling via Cyprus is a good route but I’m doing research… Hopping over to Montenegro and spending a few weeks is an option. I’m enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and of course Croatia’s people and incredible natural beauty!

More later…